In the interest of transparency I’m a casual Hulk fan. I’m no expert and I’m not even close to being as clued up on his history than I am with the likes of Batman and Daredevil. That said I have read and enjoyed enough of the history to do a list like this and it comes to us from my good bud Lesley Scott who confided in me that her earliest nightmare memory features The Jade Giant…..I won’t go fully into it. Anyhoooo let’s get on with it shall we?.
Starting off with a controversial one. Brian Azzarello is an odd one for me. I love some of his work but some of his other stuff is trying way too hard to be edgy and his dialogue can be corny as hell while trying to be gangsta. The tone in this miniseries is a little confused and Richard Corben’s art is definitely an acquired taste but there’s something about it I really enjoy. It’s out of continuity and deals with a suicidal Bruce Banner who is repeatedly kept alive by The Hulk with Doc Samson chasing after him to use him for his own needs. It’s entertaining stuff but definitely not for everyone.
Oh boy what a storied history this issue has. The scuttlebutt is that the concept was originally presented to Marvel as a graphic novel by Barry Windsor Smith then after failed negotiations to get it off the ground it was put on the back burner. Bill Mantlo supposedly found a treatment in the Marvel offices and incorporated it into a one off issue during his run. Now Mantlo is unfortunately unable to defend himself against those allegations as he was struck in a hit and run in 1992 and has been severely brain damaged since then so it’s unfair to take one side. In terms of the actual issue, it certainly would have benefited from being longer like the proposed graphic novel but it was one of the first Hulk stories I ever read so it means something to me. It shows where Hulk’s rage comes from, a very abusive childhood. Mike Mignola’s art is great with the green outline around a young Bruce Banner at all times.
22. The Lurker Beneath Loch Fear-1975
Yea boiiii The Hulk hits Scotland in probably the most stereotypical Scottish adventure with his new friend Angus Mactavish (of course). I’m pretty sure the kid from Family Ness was called that but hey ho. Hulk’s new pal is hunting the famous Loch Fear Monster and the owner of the nearby castle is trying to stop him as the tourism it brings in keeps him rich. It’s total nonsense but a fun one shot and it’s always fun seeing superhero characters come to my home country.
21. Hulk & Thing:Hard Knocks-2004/2005
Bruce Banner is having a drink in a bar somewhere in the desert when big Ben Grimm (The Thing) walks in with the intention of talking about the good old days. He wants to talk to the big green guy though, not puny Banner so he smacks him in the puss to get him to turn. Hulk is in one of the stages where he can converse and somewhat control himself at the time so the two reminisce. It’s fun stuff as they argue about the reality of their first fight and add a couple of new chapters to their long history of battering each other. Jae Lee’s art is excellent as always and Bruce Jones’ style is unusually funny.
20. Always On My Mind-2001
The Paul Jenkins/John Romita Jr run doesn’t get too much attention paid to it when discussing great Hulk stories but I think everyone who read this tragic and emotional two parter will remember it for it’s powerful take on loss. Betty Banner, Hulk’s long time love has been killed by The Abomination, supported by her own father Thunderbolt Ross and Hulk goes on a mission to find his hideous enemy. The second issue sees a severely pissed off Hulk and Abomination beating the ever loving shit out of each other and for anyone wanting to get into The Hulk….that’s pretty much what you’re after. It just so happens that Jenkins injects a lot of emotional depth to it as well.
19. Vicious Circle-1988
That famous Todd McFarlane cover, so doss. You know what you’re getting here, a big rumble between Hulk and Wolverine with a cameo from the X-Men. It’s nothing too special other than that but it’s always cool to see two titanic figures in the Marvel universe go at it. There’s nothing particularly amazing about this issue but it’s Peter David having Hulk and Logan fight which is great fun. There’s a cool bit where Hulk, in his mean gray form, uses Wolverine’s senses against him by creating loads of noise to distract him. Clever Hulk.
18.Battle Of The Behemoths-1971
As mentioned earlier The Hulk and The Thing, two of the biggest brute heroes in the Marvel universe have had a storied history of beating the crap out of each other which is always fun for us. This is one of the classic fights they had with Stan Lee writing the titanic tussle and Sal Buscema on artistic duties. Unlike a lot of these old school comic fights, this one had consequences as a slab of debris hits The Thing’s girlfriend distracting him leading to The Hulk striking a killing blow….he was revived an issue later but still!.
17.Return Of The Monster-2002/2003
Bruce Jones’ first arc in his run is like a depressing and nihilistic version of the 70s tv show with Hulk wandering from town to town trying to avoid the pursuing army and various villains. I’m no Hulk expert or completionist but from the stuff I’ve read over the years Jones goes for the most bleak interpretation of the character with much of the content focusing on Banner’s crippling loneliness and his reluctance to strike up relationships of any kind knowing he’d be putting them in danger….fun stuff.
16. Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk-2005/2009
Damon Lindelof who you may know as the co-creator of the tv show lost wrote this alternate universe tale seeing Hulk clash with his old sometimes nemesis sometimes ally Wolverine. It’s super violent and my old flatmate had a poster of the famous scene where Hulk tears Wolverine in half. The series is weird because it took a break after issue 2 and didn’t resume for another 4 years.
15.Days Of Rage-1984
The 300th (300th sounds weird) issue spectacular celebrated The Hulk by having Nightmare turn him feral and let him run amok in New York City with a panicking public fleeing in panic and Marvel’s heroes rushing to try and stop him. Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema have a lot of fun with all the characters and the destruction caused by Hulk.
14. Hulk vs. Banner-2012
Jason Aaron’s run on the character was a lot of fun as is most of his work. It starts off in a daring manner with Banner and Hulk being physically separated and becoming two separate entities. In a surprise twist (one of many) Banner is the insane, maniacal one who wants to go on a murderous rampage and Hulk is the emotional heart of the story who wants to stop him. It’s very high concept stuff and may put some off before reading it but it’s so much fun you quickly overcome the concept….and Hulk has lovely hair.
13. Pyrrhic Victor-1988
A one off issue that is part of Peter David’s epic and character defining run. David is one of those great writers that can do an issue where there’s nothing but action or comedy and then the next issue you’re crying through an emotional character piece. During this time which is confusing to newcomers, Banner is turning into the grey Hulk who is more intelligent and selfish without the babyish confusion and emotion of the green Hulk. Betty Ross decides she wants to have a deep conversation with the monster and see if they can coexist for the sake of Banner. It’s a great character exploration.
12 Honey, I Shrunk The Hulk-1991
Another Peter David entry and one that many people would have higher up than this but hey, I still love it. In it we see a hypnotised (by The Ringmaster) Bruce Banner being psychoanalyzed by Doc Samson during the time he was struggling between the green and gray Hulks and looks into his mind with his struggles with his abusive childhood and his troubling marriage to Betty Ross. Another in a series of fantastic character pieces by David with great art by Dale Keown and Bob McLeod.
11. Red Hulk:Scorched Earth-2011
Poor Jeff Parker, his run on The Hulk came after Jeph Loeb introduced Red Hulk to the Marvel universe and readers absolutely shat all over him for it. I mean….the Red Hulk story wasn’t particularly good and read like a parody but christ, people went mental over it. So basically this took place after World War Hulk and Bruce Banner was back on Earth but unable to summon his inner Jade Giant. Long time nemesis Thunderbolt Patterson became the Red Hulk after a convoluted murder mystery in which we actually saw him speaking to Red Hulk….it made no sense but meh. Anyway at this point Banner and Red Hulk are actually working together against the likes of MODOK who are creating endles doomsday scenarios. Man I’m not selling this very well but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Red Hulk smacks The Watcher in the puss….there you go.
My boy Daredevil is street level hero. A very high level street level hero but a street level hero nonetheless (strong writing from me there). So when you see a front cover with him going up against The Hulk, who is an elite level Marvel hero you know shit is on. This was in the early days of Frank Miller’s run as artist on the series with Roger McKenzie penning the issue and his style is really finding it’s voice at this point. It’s interesting that the respect shown to both characters while keeping them both comparatively strong is nicely done with Hulk fighting Matt Murdoch and then Daredevil who barely walks away both times. Matt’s strength, bravery and cunning comes to the fray while Hulk shows his physical dominance and keeps both guys looking good.
The second part of the great Jason Aaron run is a hell of a lot of fun with Banner and Hulk fused again and Hulk doing his best to keep the still corrupted Banner from emerging. It’s the polar opposite to what the character has done for decades with The Hulk being the voice of reason and desperately doing what he can to stay as angry as possible to keep Banner from getting control. That sees him going up against his old pals who love a fight like The Punisher and Wolverine and even villains like Kraven The Hunter and starting on them just so they can keep him on his rager. inventive and fun stuff from Aaron.
8. Future Imperfect-1992
Peter David collaborated with legendary artist George Perez for this two part dystopian future tale in which our Earth’s Hulk is taken into a possible future by Rick Jones to help overthrow Maestro, a dictator who rules the world with an iron fist and has wiped out most heroes. The awesome twist reveals that Maestro is none other than a future version of himself looking like David Letterman. Great stuff.
Part of the excellent series of collaborations between writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale. These collabs are the only time Loeb gets any love, any time he’s without Sale he gets totally shat on by fans…must just be a marriage of talent that works perfectly. It follows the early days of Hulk’s life since the transformation happened and like with most of the colour series it focuses on his undying love for his significant other. It’s emotional, sad and well written with Sale’s unique and recognisable art conveying the story brilliantly.
6. The End-2002
Easily the best in the bunch of possible future stories that Marvel did for their “The End” series. Written by….you guessed it….Peter David with excellent art by Dale Keown, It seems there has been a nuclear war and the devastation has left Bruce Banner/Hulk as the only survivor due to his radiation resistance. It’s utterly depressing as Banner wishes to die but any attempt sees him turn into The Hulk and survive whereas Hulk wants to prove he’s the strongest on earth so wanders around trying to find mutated creatures to fight. It’s bleak but captivating stuff.
5.Thicker Than Water-1991
Released during the height of the AIDS epidemic, this emotional one shot sees Hulk’s friend Jim Wilson ask him to come help out at a clinic he works at because one of the patients has a gangster dad who has put a hit out on his friend who he believes is responsible for his AIDS. With me?, ok so after Hulk turns up and helps fight off Speedfreek we find out that Jim himself Is HIV positive. It’s horrible stuff but Hulk’s reaction of not caring how he got it, he’s just desperate to help is the beautiful part of it. Contextually that’s important as at the time there was a real stigma of the disease being a “gay plague” and certain sections of society were being ridiculously unsupportive and vindictive to the gay community. Having a hero acting like this is exactly the kind of thing that let’s kids reading see the real way to act to their fellow man/woman.
4. Lest Darkness Come-1994
Then a couple of years later Jim died due to his AIDS as Hulk watches on completely helpless an unable to smash his way out of it. No amount of muscles or rage could stop his friend from dying right before his eyes. Hulk was in control at this point and able to converse intelligently in Hulk form so it’s quite weird just watching the Jade Giant just chilling at the side of his mate’s hospital bed. Otherwise incredibly powerful and emotional stuff from Peter David and Gary Frank.
3. Planet Hulk-2006/2007
Greg Pak’s space epic sees Marvel’s big hitters like Mr Fantastic and Iron Man make the tough decision that Hulk is too dangerous and is putting the people of Earth in danger through his violent rampages. They send him into space where he lands on the gladiatorial planet of Sakaar and is met with many beings who are a match for him on the battlefield. The planet is ruled over by a tyrant who treats the inhabitants as slaves and Hulk ends up helping them in an uprising. It’s cool seeing him meet all these new races and personalities that Hulk befriends, he even finds love and the violent mutiny is played out over several enthralling issues. This is on the top of most Hulk lists for a reason and it renewed a lot of people’s interest in a character who hadn’t been up to much in terms of popularity for the years preceding it. This story was a huge influence on the latest Thor movie.
2. World War Hulk-2007
….But unlike most people I actually prefer the sequel to Planet Hulk. Basically he makes his way back to earth and goes on a rager against his old allies who sent him on his forced exile. Proper rampage against the Marvel universe stuff. Good fun and brilliantly paced and written by Pak with expressive art from John Romita Jr.
1 The Brute…That Shouted Love…At The Heart Of The Atom-1971
Harlan Ellison is one of my favourite authors of all time and there’s one thing you can always be assured of…he’s going to give you a hell of a title!. “I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream” “Repent Harlequin Said The Tick Tock Man” etc, he’s just an imaginative genius and here his story is adapted by Roy Thomas and drawn by Herb Trimpe. It’s mental, Hulk is shrunk and ends up on a tiny world where he is worshiped by little green folks. This was a huge influence on the aforementioned Planet Hulk and the title was taken from Ellison’s short story “The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The World”. It may seem weird having this above epics like “Planet Hulk” and emotional powerhouses like “Lest Darkness Come” but when I was starting out reading Hulk I researched and found this wee gem by one of my favourite writers so I simply had to check it out and it ended up being such a blast that it stuck with me and I love it.
There we go then, thanks again to Lesley for the suggestion and I hope you all enjoyed it. Again I’m not a Hulk obsessive so it was fun digging deeper to get this done than some lists where I could almost do them off the top of my head. I had a lot of fun doing it, hope you did reading it. Catch @swing_kinker until next time.